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Austin Research: growing, nurturing and maturing research leaders

09 January 2023

Research-active health services deliver safer and better evidence-based care to our patients. This means better outcomes for our patients.

"The Austin precinct celebrates the promotion of three prominent precinct researchers: Professor Elif Ekinci, Professor Michael Hildebrand, and Professor Mehrdad Nikfarjam,"says Heidi Gaulke, Manager, Office for Research.

Professor Ekinci is known for her insight, enthusiasm and thorough approach to reducing the impact of diabetes on the health of Individuals.

She has recently been awarded the highly competitive National Health and Medical Research CCTC for Indigenous Health Clinical Trials of Flash Glucose Monitors for First Nations peoples with Diabetes.

Her current portfolio of research projects specifically helps control blood sugar levels, an issue that has profound affects for people living in remote communities.

Newly developed medications for diabetes can be more effective in reducing blood glucose and consequently reduce the complications of diabetes, such as kidney disease, blindness cardiovascular disease and amputations. Better control of blood sugar levels means that people do not have to leave their communities and families for medical treatment.

Professor Ekinci joined the Austin Health precinct as a medical student, intern and registrar, now she combines her role as head of Diabetes Health at Austin with being the director of the Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations (ACADI), funded by the Medical Research Future Fund grant scheme, which is a highly competitive.

Professor Michael Hildebrand, based at the Austin precinct, in the Department of Medicine (University of Melbourne) was a scientist working in the genetic basis of hearing loss.

He was attracted to join the Austin by the way the team in epilepsy research had a primary focus on clinical areas, and the way the health service could offer avenues to explore new treatments.

The strength of the research program in epilepsy was also a drawcard. Ten years later Dr Hildebrand has been appointed as a Professor, enjoying the opportunities to help people by supporting improvements to treatments as well as supporting and helping clinicians to grow.

He remains impressed by the cross disciplinary approach where everyone learns from the way other disciplines approach treatment issues.

Professor Mehrdad Nikfarjam is one of the highest volume Liver, Pancreas and Biliary Surgeons in Australia, he is instrumental in leading world class interventions and research into Pancreas and Liver cancer, focusing on researching the role of p21-Kinase system in pancreatic adenocarcinoma using various in-vitro techniques and in-vivo animal models.

He is the current President of the Australasian Pancreatic Club and the founding member of not-for-profit organization, Pancare Foundation, that aims to increase awareness, advance research, provide education and support, relating to pancreatic, liver, biliary and foregut cancers.

The Austin precinct has also seen great success for our Early Career Researchers who have been awarded NHMRC postgraduate scholarships.

Dr Gia (Toan) Tang and Dr Shuyu Wang, have each been awarded an NHMRC Postgraduate Scholarship, of over $131,000. The scholarships aim to support exceptional health and medical graduates early in their careers and develop capacity for original independent research within Australia.

Dr Tang is a clinical doctor with a passion for improving health equity and has engaged with the LGBTQIA+ sector through various community works.

His research focuses on identifying the effect of gender-affirming hormone therapy on hair growth in transgender individuals in a collaborative research team involving endocrinologists at Austin Health and dermatologists at Sinclair Dermatology.

Dr Wang is a final year neurology trainee. Her PhD is set at the Epilepsy Research Centre, a pioneer of many discoveries in epilepsy genetics and management.

Her research project aims to translate the wealth of progress in epilepsy genetics into improved treatment outcomes, by investigating the effectiveness of precision therapies that target the underlying genetic mechanisms of epilepsy. Her studies will attempt to create a roadmap for the discovery of new epilepsy treatments, which has the potential to directly improve the outcomes of patients.

"Austin Health attracts and retains mid-career researchers who are attracted by working with a multi-disciplinary team focused on improving the care we deliver, in an environment where research is supported and funded," Heidi​​​​​​​ adds.